When his young daughter died, the poet Issa wrote:
This dew drop world
is a dew drop world,
And yet . . . . .
and yet . . . . .
This “And yet . . .”, in all its poignancy, tenderness, heartache and wisdom, is the topic of a new book by Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush. Compassion in Action touches deeply that place in all of us that feels our interconnectedness, sees the pain of living beings, and needs to respond.
From a certain spiritual perspective, the world may be viewed as dream-like, as perfect, as a manifestation of God’s will. “And yet . . . and yet . . .” our hearts do tremble at knowing the suffering that exists everywhere, and that very trembling can be expressed as caring, meaningful and consequential action. “And yet . . .” defines our humanity and the interdependence of our spiritual development and our relatedness to life itself.
The preface begins: “This book is for those of us who feel called to reduce the suffering that surrounds us on the planet and who also feel that the deepest responsibility of each of us is to become more fully who we are, to live closer to the truth.” The first section of the book is a moving and powerful autobiographical reflection by Ram Dass. The evolution of a person’s compassion is based largely on his own opening to suffering and the growing resiliency in facing suffering that is born out of faith and out of love. Ram Dass beautifully chronicles his journey of compassion—his growing ability to open, and to be lovingly with others. Central to this is his relationship with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaji as he is called. Maharaji is Ram Dass’s frame of reference:
“Such a being acts out of fearless freedom, his compassion expressed in breathtakingly unpredictable ways, at one moment miraculous and at the next quite mundane. Even in the midst of the strong passions of the moment, there is a deep inner calm and peacefulness, and indifference to the polarities of fame and shame, loss and gain, pleasure and pain, and even life and death.”
Reading these stories brings great joy and understanding. Probably we can all relate to Ram Dass’s confusion upon being told by Maharaji both to “love everybody” and to “always tell the truth,” when in truth he didn’t love everybody at all. Through karma-yoga, the path of action, we can develop from wanting to love everyone—but in truth only tolerating a few—to feeling at one with all living beings, without exception. The journey, in fact, is more cyclical than linear; on the path we touch these various places over and over again.
The second section of Compassion in Action, written by Mirabai Bush, begins at the moment where we say, “And yet . . .”, when we awaken to our interconnectedness and the suffering of life, and our heart calls us to action. The stories told here evoke the words of Margaret Mead, who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The inspiration found here reminds us that we are never alone—could never be alone. We can rejoice in the strength and the dignity in service shown in the people portrayed here—many doing ordinary things that don’t seem so beyond our own capacity for giving—yet doing them in a way that reminds us piercingly of all of our potential for good. Mirabai skillfully writes about such themes as doing what one loves, starting small, learning to listen and visioning. She guides us in channeling our often inchoate but genuine desire to help through giving us “first steps” and resources for actually beginning a path of service.
Both authors refer to their work as “fingers pointing at the moon”—but what a wonderful pointing!